After serving as a diplomat for thirty years I am always a bit skeptical about catch phrases to describe the practice of diplomacy. A foreign policy for the middle class is not the worst I’ve heard, speaking as it does to the millions who have been left feeling unheard for so long while the radical fringes and wealthy elites seemed to be the only ones being reacted to, but words alone are not enough. I regret to say that I’ve yet to see concentrated actions to back up these words in a meaningful way.
New policy directions are more effective when the words and actions of the political leadership are congruent and the policy is operationalized by fielding a team of qualified practitioners with the necessary resources and support to turn it into reality.
The new administration has thus far said the right things—for the most part—and even done a few to show that American foreign policy is moving in a new direction, but much is yet to be done.
The U.S. rejoined the Paris Climate Accords and has been open to restarting negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, both addressing major issues that affect the security of us all. In addition, there has been a commitment to diversity and inclusion in the foreign policy establishment, long a bastion of white males. There has, however been an unfortunate tendency when dealing with our global competition with a rising China to opt for heated rhetoric rather than reason, harkening to the Cold War US-USSR rivalry. Congress, on a partisan basis, has blocked a number of foreign policy nominations (especially ambassadors) and the administration has been slow in submitting nominations, leaving many key positions filled by individuals in an acting capacity which hampers the ability to achieve policy goals. There have also been some ‘political’ appointments which have raised eyebrows and caused some to think that the American ‘pay to play’ system is still alive and unwell. Regarding inclusiveness, while a number of excellent diverse appointments, there appears to be some foot dragging over providing resources to implement diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. State Department’s new chief diversity officer, for example, received a budget to hire staff and reports directly to the secretary of state, but was not given a program budget.
Foreign policy for the middle class, the way I interpret it, is policy that benefits middle-income individuals but that is also presented in such a way that they see and understand those benefits It should not be policy that plays to the fears and prejudices of any demographic, thus, in my view, it should avoid militaristic, antagonistic rhetoric and focus instead on developing mutually beneficial partnerships to address global problems that threaten us all, continue to stand for respect for human rights and rule of law, and seek peaceful solutions before resorting to conflict. This policy should be focused, in word and deed, on building a world that is prosperous and that benefits all.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan organization that seeks to publish well-argued, policy-oriented articles on American foreign policy and national security priorities.